Upon finishing my semester studying in Perth, Western Australia, I decided I wanted to take some time to see the east coast of Oz. Throughout my time abroad I had seen much of the west coast but never got time to venture to Sydney, Cairns or any of the main sights of the east. Many of my good friends were returning to the States to start summer jobs and I found myself realizing if I wanted to travel around Australia some more, I would have to go at it alone.
I had heard about the tour company Contiki from many people in the past and decided to take a look into their trips. Contiki is a company geared towards travelers age 18 to 35 who want an experience where they can meet new people and not worry about logistics. When you sign up for a tour you just have to get yourself there then everything from activities to accommodation is primarily taken care of. After spending a semester being responsible for school work, excursions and everything else, being able to just hang out, travel and meet people with little to no planning involved sounded right up my alley.
Booking a Tour:
I chose to go into an STA Travel office to ask some questions and figure out what trip would be right for me. The people there were incredibly helpful and booked both my tour and my flight over to Cairns. I had done some independent research beforehand so I had a good idea on what tour I wanted to do, but being able to sit down and ask someone knowledgeable about my options was really refreshing. I had never traveled alone for an extended period of time before and I wanted to ensure that a Contiki tour was the right choice for my situation.
I would recommend talking to either a travel agent or sending some emails to the people at Contiki to ask some questions before booking. Especially because I was able to get a small discount by booking through STA due to my student status.
I chose to do the tour called Beaches and Reefs starting in Cairns. The tour lasted two weeks and went to many iconic Australian locations such as The Great Barrier Reef, Gold Coast, Byron Bay, Whitsunday Islands, and many others.
*Whitehaven Beach, Whitsunday Islands*
*Surfers Paradise, Gold Coast*
What to Expect:
Personally, I had heard Contiki tours tended to get a little crazy. People told me stories about long and wild nights out, all which included way too much alcohol. However, my experience was different. The group of people on my tour went out and had fun but the trip did not feel like it was focused only on partying. I think a lot of times these tour companies that cater to young people get a bad reputation for being just party trips but I did not find that on my Contiki Tour. I had far more experiences exploring tall rainforests, relaxing at sunny beaches, snorkeling in coloring waters and just enjoying the views of Australia than I did drinking or partying. I’m sure the vibe of the trip varies depending on the mix of people, but overall I would imagine most Contiki tours have a good combination of real authentic travel experiences and some fun nights out.
One thing you should expect is that when you arrive, there will be people who either already know each other, or seem to have already made their friends. Not everyone will be traveling alone, but not everyone is in groups either. I managed to make some amazing friends on my tour, friends that I still talk to years later! But don’t go into this trip thinking everyone will be friendly and soon the whole bus will be best friends. There were people on my tour I barely spoke two words to and others that I had deep and meaningful conversations with. As with most situations in life, there will be awesome bonding moments with some people and awkward, silent interactions with others. Overall, people are nice and everyone is there to have a good time! If you are like me and choose to do a trip like this alone, you will soon realize upon arrival that you’re not at all alone and that there are loads of opportunities to make friends!
*My tour group on Fraser Island*
Contiki tours are not cheap, but are not outlandishly expensive either. At first glance I thought my two-week tour sounded like so much money! However, you must understand that the price of the tour includes some meals, all accommodation, all transportation, a knowledgeable and awesome guide, as well as many super cool activities. I did the math when deciding what tour was right for me and realized if I tried to see and do all the things my tour offered independently, it would cost me MORE money.
That being said, there are many “extras” offered on a Contiki tour that bump up the cost of your vacation. Each tour will offer Me Time options which are just extra tours and activities you can choose to purchase throughout the tour. For example, in Cairns there was a day on the tour that was a “free day”, meaning you had time to yourself to do whatever you chose. However, there were activities offered through Contiki that you could take part of if you wanted. I ended up booking a trip that day to do the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway which took me up into the mountains of the rainforest and into an adorable little town. That trip did cost me extra but it made for an awesome day with some people from my tour that I ended up getting really close to.
*Skyrail Rainforest Cable Car in Cairns*
Other things that cost extra money would be food. Usually breakfast is always included every day and there are a few included dinners as well. Most days’ lunch is on your own, but you can choose to eat when and where you want. A few people on my tour would always go to a grocery store in each town to pick up snacks and sandwiches for lunches which saved them quite a lot of money. You also should include the price of alcohol if you think you will be going out at night quite a bit. Australia has pretty high alcohol prices so keep that in mind.
Overall, my experience with Contiki was a very pleasant one. My trip was fun, I met amazing friends, saw awesome sights and managed to not spend a ridiculous amount of money (always a bonus). Contiki tours are a great option for people traveling alone, I think my experience was heightened because I went by myself. It allowed me to open up to new people and new things!
Explore Contiki’s website to see for yourself what they offer!